I avoided writing this post for a long time, mainly because I didn’t want to join a dogpile of performative messages about dumping Basecamp. However, in light of their recent rebrand back to 37signals and because I’ve been an open advocate of Basecamp in the past, I wanted to clarify where I stand.
I like opinionated software.
I like opinionated developers.
But I recognize that, especially today, the right to hold an opinion shouldn’t shield you from the impact your opinion might have on your company or on your community.
For fifteen years, I held the opinion that Basecamp was my favorite project management tool. I’ve never said “the best,” because (as a piece of legendarily opinionated software) it didn’t even want to be good at some things. I just knew it was the best for the way I wanted to work.
Basecamp could be pretty polarizing, especially when onboarding clients into the system. Most of our clients at Johns & Taylor are what developers would call “non-technical.” If we’re asking them to adopt our preferred system, it’s got to be easy to use, easy to understand, and relatively lightweight. Basecamp always fit the bill.
When the Basecamp team (who had already changed their name from 37signals to focus on project management) announced HEY, I jumped in early. It reminded me of when Gmail first hit the market. I could watch my now-lightweight inbox fill with notes from folks who had also dropped into the hey.com user base. When the platform added newsletter and blogging tools, I almost moved my personal site and lists to their platform.
Beyond my own satisfaction with Basecamp as a product, I evangelized Basecamp as a company. I included copies of their books as part of our own employees’ professional development programs. We even adopted portions of Basecamp’s open-sourced employee handbook into our own Johns & Taylor staff onboarding program.
Then it all blew up.
Last spring, news trickled onto social media that Basecamp implemented a “no politics at work” policy. At first, it looked like an attempt to set boundaries around political speech on internal discussion forums.
What it concealed, at its core, was a company culture that had stifled legitimate criticism of racist activities (like keeping a list of customers with “funny names”) and shut down attempts to formalize diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
I’ve always felt it important to work with vendors that align with your values. I also recognize that you’re never going to agree 100% of the time with 100% of the people that work at any given company.
However, when you’re using such a forward-facing set of products to represent your own business to your customers, you’re going to inherit their problems. If clients have to log in to a project management tool that’s co-branded with our company logo, they shouldn’t have to wonder if we’re also sharing values (or problems).
As a team, we quickly agreed to decamp from Basecamp. I revisited notes from all of the project management vendors who’d pitched us over the years.
- Product A had champions among our client base, but required a steep learning curve for our team. We’d have spent three months just getting our to-do lists into shape.
- Product J is lovely and lightweight. Engineers on our team and among our clients adore it. Our non-technical clients generally hated it.
- Product C looked appealing, but all of its marketing and support documentation espoused extreme hustle culture—I couldn’t send a message to our team that we were endorsing that behavior, either.
And then we tried Teamwork.
It’s a delightful suite of project management and support tools, supported by a delightful group of people who are mostly based around Cork, Ireland—near one of my favorite places in the world.
It reminds me quite a bit of the look-and-feel of Basecamp 2, but in a multiverse where the 37signals team had doubled down on flexible bulk task editing and reporting instead of pivoting into the minimalism of Basecamp 3. Integrating Teamwork CRM and Desk into our organization solved a bunch of other issues for our company, while eliminating the need for all the Zapier zaps we used to keep Basecamp talking to some of our other tools.
It turned out to be a major win for us.
On the personal side, I stopped using my personal hey.com address and my personal e-mail to iCloud, this time hooked up to Sanebox to handle separating automated messages from the real human engagement I wanted to keep in my inbox. As much as I loved the HEY feature set, I couldn’t deal with the blowback from friends and clients who wondered whether my use of a hey.com address signaled solidarity with Basecamp leadership.
(I get the potential dissonance here, since Apple’s also problematic in its own ways. I still have a few bones to pick with my former employer. However, I think those issues aren’t nearly as showstopping as those that came to light during the Basecamp exodus. Besides, leaning on my own domain more means I’m free to move my personal e-mail anywhere I like later on.)
I’m glad that Jason and DHH offered severance to employees who no longer wanted to work in an environment that turned out to be toxic. And I take them at face value when they say they’re sorry.
I’m even more glad that, thanks to Teamwork’s clever migration tools and support team, we made the migration over a weekend and our clients experienced no issues moving with us to the new system. I’ve even got one more place to visit the next time I’m in Ireland.